When I first woke after our night in Cape Disappointment, my first instinct was to scratch. And then scratch, scratch and scratch some more. Our escape to the beach the night before hadn’t been sufficient: and in spite of a more than generous application of repellant, I had been all-but eaten alive during the night by the dreaded mosquitoes. On closer examination, I found a tennis ball-sized lump emerging on my thigh…and worst of all, a bite on my face had caused it to begin swelling like a balloon. My mid-morning, my eye was almost closed up and puffy, giving me a comical ‘black eye without the black’ appearance. Under Matt’s instructions, I tried to keep my glasses on for the day- “people might think I did that to you!” he fretted. Very caring and considerate, my fiancé.
Today was the day we would finally leave wet Washington behind and enter Oregon to undertake perhaps the most scenic stretch of our Pacific Coast ride. However, there were more than a few hurdles to overcome before we could reasonably celebrate.
We set off in light drizzle, passing through Illwaco and then the smaller town of Chinook. To be perfectly honest, the scenery in general passed me by in the haze of damp; my thoughts were more greatly focused upon the challenges that were to come later during our ride. The first we encountered was one of the two tunnels through which we would need to pass during this section of the route (the other being situated a little further down into Oregon). The department of transportation have installed a cyclist-warning system to these tunnels, consisting of a button that we were to press before entering which would set off hazard lights alerting drivers to our presence and (in theory) restricting them to 30mph for the stretch of the tunnel. This first tunnel actually didn’t bother us too greatly; reasonably short and level, it was actually a welcome respite from the rain and we found that the cars passing through were few in number and generally very considerate.
Once we had passed through the tunnel, it wasn’t long until we confronted the true nemesis for the day: The Astoria-Megler bridge.
Crossing the Columbia river and over 4miles long, this bridge is pretty infamous amongst cyclists familiar with the coastal route- with none having anything positive to say of it. And I think I can safely say, it was one of the toughest trials of our trip so far (perhaps the Coquihalla aside- but very, very close)
On entering the bridge, we were greeted first by a vicious sidewind that was to fight us the entire way across. The light drizzle of rain, which hadn’t bothered us too significantly up to this point, became a source of ammunition once the rain was added to the equation- stinging as it hit the side of my face like a thousand tiny pins stabbing repeatedly at my skin. My right eye was in the firing line also: so much so that due to my lack of foresight in putting on my clear glasses, no matter how greatly I tried to fight against it, I simply couldn’t keep my eye fully open- and was obliged to continue pushing through the rain with a lopsided squint. The wind shook and pulled at my bike, daringly forcing me to edge closer to the centre of the road in spite of my best efforts to hold steady and continue straight. The road was narrow and the shoulder near-non-existant, or covered in large patches of loose gravel and debris where it was in place. The side walls were perhaps ½ a metre high and offered basically no protection; we were completely exposed to the elements. Worse still, the choppy, rough brown waters of the river alongside thrashed against the pillars of the bridge, making me almost queasy on the occasions I chanced to look across: truly terrifying, given it’s close proximity.
Cars overtook frequently; some respectfully offering us the space we needed, others, scraping dangerously close with such speed as caused my heart to stop on more than one occasion.
Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, I looked ahead to be greeted by a horrifically steep climb as the bridge became a ramp to allow for the passing of larger ships beneath. I groaned as we approached, wondering how I could possibly tackle this on top of the existing conditions.
When we started to climb, I was obliged to switch into my lowest gear almost immediately. I huffed and puffed with the effort as I pushed and pushed myself, the strain nearly reducing me to tears until animalistic groans and sounds escaped me. If I’d of had any breath left in me, I’d of laughed at the absurdity of myself- utterly ridiculous!- but as it was, I could barely pant sufficiently to keep the oxygen entering my lungs. The climb seemed never-ending and I was desperate to stop, only given the narrow and busy nature of the bridge, it simply wasn’t safe anywhere. We had to keep pushing on.
That moment, when I reached the peak, the top of that ramp, I should have felt elated, relieved, bursting with a sense of achievement- I couldn’t. I could barely lift my head up to celebrate the moment; my quads and gluts were in such pain, I could practically feel the muscle fibres tearing. The sail down the ramp was sweet relief but most definitely didn’t justify such a sharp incline- though when we reached the bottom, we found a collected group of cyclists assembled at the bottom, all recovering from their own experience of the ordeal, who celebrated on our behalf with cheers and offers of congratulations. They’d all been forced to stop part way and couldn’t believe we’d pushed through the entire length of the ramp with the trailer! It was a fantastic atmosphere to ride into- a sense of community, almost, with everyone united by the sheer torture of such a ride. We stayed on to welcome across yet another cyclist who was behind us before deciding a long-deserved break and celebration of our arrival into Oregon was most definitely in order.
Thankfully after our ‘ordeal’, the rest of the ride for the day was reasonably simple. Rolling hills along the 101 kept us working, but seemed nothing compared to the bridge and we welcomed them gladly as such. We were overtaken by several fellow cyclists (in spite of our best efforts, we are quite simply the slowest ones out there!) although we tried desperately to keep pace with a couple of young guys on the approach the Seaside- and unfortunately failed! We had something to spur us on, however: for the night, we had the extreme privilege of being offered a place to stay in a WarmShowers host’s home, even though he was actually out of town for a few days. We couldn’t get over the trust and incredible kindness of our host-in-absentia, Neil, who gave us instructions to get into the house and had a freshly made bed, clean towels and a whole host of guide materials for the area laid out for us. It was heaven to spend a night inside after the fiasco of mosquitoes (who left Matt and Theo well alone, choosing to only direct their efforts on me- my eye, by the end of the day, was almost completely closed and my vision significantly compromised!) and although there were actually a couple of French touring cyclists already at the house on our arrival, they headed off during the evening to their next destination- leaving us with the house to ourselves. The biggest possible shout out to Neil- what a legend!!
So there you have it- a short day in terms of mileage, but by no means an easy ride. Fellow cyclists who have yet to undertake the bridge- I just pray for clear skies and tailwinds for your crossing, and wish you the very best of luck!
And finally- we’re in Oregon!
Miles Today: 36
Total Miles to Date: 912